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Home > School Issues Channel > School Issues Archive > Teach for America Diaries > Shani Jackson's Diary > Entry #6

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Defeating Self-Defeating Behavior
by Shani Jackson

Ramon is slumping over his desk, looking at the page of proportion and percent problems like they just talked about his mama. He just doesnt want to deal with them. When my students just sit and look at their work -- instead of actually doing it -- I jokingly ask, You on strike?" Today, Ramon met my joke with, Yeah, Ms. Im on strike."

This was unlike Ramon. Sure, Ramon failed his state math test -- the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) -- last year, and the year before, and probably the year before that. But all indicators from him this year were that he would pass. Hes smart, usually participates actively in class, and just seems to get math. I was trying to figure out what was making Ramon change. In fact, what was making many of my students who were working hard at the beginning of the year suddenly start to zone out, forget concepts, and stop working?

On day three of Ramons strike" I explained the concept of self-defeating behavior to Ramon and the students at his table. Ramon," I explained, is not working because he knows that passing the TAKS is very doable and even probable. But hes scared to show that he actually wants to pass. Hes scared to put forth the effort. Because the one thing worse, in his mind, than just failingis working hard and still failing. So Ramon is involved in whats called self-defeating behavior. Hes trying to remove the possibility that he will actually do well on TAKS." Sharissa chimed in, Yeah, I think that was what I was doing. But thats when me and my Momma talked about it. And look, Im doing good now."

Sharissa is right. She had done the same thing. Most of us have. Weve all been involved in some level of self-defeating behavior. Though I was in honors courses in middle school and high school, I first heard about the concept of self-defeating behavior from my Mom, who suggested that Id fallen victim to it in middle school when I began settling for Cs. But that type of behavior and acceptance of mediocrity left me about 13 years ago, and Im having a hard time staring mediocrityor worse, failurein the face.

We are but a few days from our TAKS test. Im realizing that many of my students are getting nervous and scared. Others of them are just resigned to failure. Its hard for me to know that for every success I have experienced in my life, many of my students have experienced failure. More than half of my students failed their TAKS math test last year. Many of them failed all their standardized tests last year.

When failure becomes such a part of your reality, its hard to have the hatred for it that it deserves. When failure becomes routine, it starts to feel less like a lesson learned" and more like a way of life. I wish I had a more positive note on which to end this. I know that many of my students have overcome their own fear of failure, and have worked extremely hard and will do well on their upcoming test. My job after the test is to help the other students still walking in their own fear learn, not only math, but the resilience and determination required to stare failure in the face, and succeed. It is a lesson that I have had to put into action many times myself this year.

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Teach For America Diaries


Article by Shani Jackson
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Posted 04/25/2007